1935 Ten Best Movies

39stepsSome years there’s a clear #1; other years, three or four films nudge around at the top. This is one of the nudge years. I could easily have gone for The Devil is a Woman, a masterpiece of sado-masochistic weirdness between Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich (and the last picture they made together), which I love as much as any of their films. Or it could have been Bride of Frankenstein, one of the most distinctively and personally eccentric movies made in Hollywood during this era – unless you’re also talking about Sylvia Scarlett, which fits the same profile.

Still, The 39 Steps has that crackle of a filmmaker absolutely hitting his stride, the point from which there would be no looking back. The movie is like a master class is how space is used as an expressive tool in storytelling; every shot furthers the dire situation our protagonist finds himself in (however jaunty the tone may be). It would all be glib if it weren’t for the occasional scene like the farmhouse night with the lonely wife, when everything narrows to a stark look at people in their traps.

Ten best of 1935:

1. The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock)

2. The Devil is a Woman (Josef von Sternberg)

3. Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale)

4. Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor)

5. Wife! Be Like a Rose! (Mikio Naruse)

6. Bonne Chance! (Sacha Guitry)

7. Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl)

8. The Informer (John Ford)

9. Toni (Jean Renoir)

10. Top Hat (Mark Sandrich) and A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood)

So much that is delightful in this year, and then Triumph of the Will: but Riefenstahl’s still-astounding movie should be acknowledged and confronted as a horrifying achievement. The Naruse film is a sweet-sour movie about family dynamics that keeps surprising you at every turn; the Guitry picture is a slaphappy comedy about luck in which the French New Wave appears to have arrived 25 years early.

Just missed lots of wonderful Hollywood titles, with the #10 slot a cop-out  filled by Astaire-Rogers and the Marx Brothers, unavoidable phenomena of the time (and who would want to avoid them?). Also: Alice Adams, a great Katharine Hepburn role and impeccable direction by George Stevens; Leo McCarey’s classic Ruggles of Red Gap; the all-star Cukor-directed David Copperfield; and the also all-star A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which brought Max Reinhardt’s fantastical visions to the screen and promptly laid a box-office egg (but it’s a rather amazing feast for the eyes, and Mickey Rooney is uproarious).

Also in the German vein, Mad Love was a rare directing outing for Karl Freund, and a great one for Peter Lorre. But with Bride of Frankenstein going full tilt, this horror takes a back seat.

Next week: 1973.

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